This is the second of two CDs that came across my review desk recently (although the releases are not too recent, which is pretty typical in the Chain D.L.K. world) the first being Ctrl's 'Lost in Static'. There are enough similarities (although by no means does the music of the two bands sound the same) and they even share a key joint member (Brad McAllister - vocals, programming, keys) but also enough differences to warrant a comparative review. The commonality is a retro-80s synthpop sound, and although you can hear their influences, there is no one band in particular either one of them sound like. It is rather an amalgam of elements you know you've heard before. They also both happen to come from Austin, Texas.
While Ctrl has a more distinctive vocalist in Alex Virlios, the vocals by Brad McAllister, and other member Brian Pearson (guitar, bass, keys) are more varied and have an instantly likeable quality, like a comfortable pair of shoes. They aren't particularly unique, but the strength of the songwriting more than compensates. It might be prudent to note that Pearson is also the live guitarist for the group Iris.
It is the songwriting that is the chief difference between Low Technicians and Ctrl. Low Technicians have the knack of writing really good hooks, and putting them across with enough sonic variety so that no two songs sound the same. Pearson's guitar is a prominent factor in the sound too. The album is much more moody and subtle than the one by Ctrl. The first track, 'Miles Away' is a strong opener with a good hook, but it's the second track, 'Out There in Silence' that really grabs you. There is so much alternative crossover potential here that it is simply amazing. I can think of about a dozen groups playing major festivals this year that this band outclasses. They should be there.
'We Might Break' is another track with a great infectious hook and good potential on the dancefloor too. There is something so perfect about the construction of these tunes that sets this band well apart from many I have heard lately even without top-notch production. 'While 'Energy Inside' is far from the best track on the album, it keeps up momentum rhythmically, and is probably good dance floor fodder as well. Simple but effective with a filtered sawtooth synth groove. 'Endless' gets my vote for runner-up favorite track on the album. Begins with a cool stomping guitar chord progression and Numanesque atmos-synth in the background which serves as break between the verses. Another cool, effective hook. Almost ends too soon. 'There Was a Time' is an atmospheric track with a good bassline where the guitar is the focal point and the subdued vocals are nearly part of the atmosphere. No killer hooks here but none are needed. If I had to pick one track to sell a friend to sell on this band, it would be 'Otherside'. I love the hook, the synth ambience, the bassline, the rhythm and motion, and vocals and lyrics are pretty cool too. It's the longest track on the album (at only 4:58) and it could have even been longer and I would have been happy. In fact, my only gripe is that this album is just too short at 34:13. Last track, 'Choices' is a slow-moving piece of laconic atmos vaguely akin to the Doves on their more tranquil tracks. A nice way to usher the album out.
As I said before, my only gripe is that the album is too short. A little over 30 minutes is just not enough time to spend with the Low Technicians. Leaves me wanting more, which is a good thing, I guess. If I was an A&R guy from Whatever (major label) Records, and I had to choose between signing Ctrl and Low Technicians, I'd take the Low Technicians. Good songwriting is hard to find, and these guys have the goods to carry it off. Brad, you might just want to put more effort into this project. For me, it's the better bet.